Portrait of Professor Mattias Frey

Professor Mattias Frey

Professor of Film, Media and Culture
Head of Film and Media


Professor Mattias Frey is Professor of Film, Media and Culture at the University of Kent. His approach to film and media culture attends coequally to institutions as to human agency and cooperation, concentrating on what were once considered periphery phenomena: criticism, distribution, marketing and promotion, regulation and other cultural intermediaries.

In his recent and ongoing research, Professor Frey has taken a critical media industries approach to film (esp. distribution, regulation, exhibition); film and media audiences; promotional media and cultural intermediation (esp. film marketing, criticism); and digital culture (e.g. algorithmic recommender systems).

Over his career, research endeavours have included studies of specific genres and production trends (period/historical film and series; arthouse extreme cinema), institutions (film and other arts criticism; video on demand platforms such as Netflix), periods (postwar and contemporary) and geographical areas (German and Austrian film), not to mention classical and contemporary film theory. These publications, informed by media industries, sociology of art, political economy and cultural studies perspectives, demonstrate the productivity of triangulating methods first developed in seemingly distant areas of the humanities and social sciences. Professor Frey would welcome serving as a postgraduate supervisor in these and related subjects.

Professor Frey received his academic training in Heidelberg, Mannheim and Berlin as well as at Harvard University, where he earned his bachelor and doctoral degrees and taught in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. In 2008 he joined the University of Kent. In addition to his research and teaching, he has served as the Director of Internationalisation for the Faculty of Humanities, Director of Learning and Teaching for the School of Arts, Director of Internationalisation for the School of Arts, Director of Recruitment and Marketing for the School of Arts, Head of the Film department, Acting Associate Dean for Research and Innovation for the Faculty of Humanities, Managing Director of the Centre for Film and Media Research and in a variety of other roles. 

Professor Frey’s most recent monograph is Netflix Recommends: Algorithms, Film Choice, and the History of Taste. It will appear in June 2021 with the University of California Press.

His other books include Postwall German Cinema: History, Film History, and Cinephilia (Berghahn, 2013); Cine-Ethics: Ethical Dimensions of Film Theory, Practice, and Spectatorship (Routledge, 2014; co-edited with Jinhee Choi); The Permanent Crisis of Film Criticism: The Anxiety of Authority (Amsterdam UP, 2015); Film Criticism in the Digital Age (Rutgers UP, 2015; co-edited with Cecilia Sayad); Extreme Cinema: The Transgressive Rhetoric of Today’s Art Film Culture (Rutgers UP, 2016); Audio History des Films: Sonic Icons – Auditive Histosphaere – Authentizitaetsgefuehl (Bertz + Fischer, 2018; co-written with Winfried Pauleit and Rasmus Greiner).

His numerous articles appear in edited anthologies, reference works and journals such as Cinema JournalScreenNew German CritiqueArtforumQuarterly Review of Film and VideoJump Cut and Framework. In the 2000s, he reviewed movies for the Boston Phoenix and for many years he reported on film festivals for Senses of Cinema.

From 2015 to 2018, he received the Philip Leverhulme Prize, which awards ‘the achievement of outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future career is exceptionally promising’. He is also recipient of an AHRC Early Career Fellowship in 2013-2014. In 2012 he was awarded the University Teaching Prize for his pedagogical work on film criticism; in 2017 he was recipient of the University Research Prize (Faculty of Humanities). His book Extreme Cinema: The Transgressive Rhetoric of Today’s Art Film Culture received the 2017 BAFTSS (British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies) Best Monograph Award Honourable Mention. Another, The Permanent Crisis of Film Criticism: The Anxiety of Authority, was a shortlisted finalist for the 2016 BAFTSS Best Monograph Award.

In the academic year 2014-2015 Professor Frey served as invited Visiting Professor of Art and New Media at the Universitaet Bremen, where he took part in a research cluster on the audio history of film, funded through the Exzellenzinitiative. In 2011, he was invited guest researcher at the Humboldt Universitaet zu Berlin for a project on cross-cultural film criticism.

Research interests

Professor Frey’s current projects include analyses of cultural diversity in film production, distribution, intermediation and reception and a study of how streaming services like Netflix affect media diversity and consumption.

In his recent research, Professor Frey has taken a critical media industries approach to film (esp. distribution, regulation, exhibition); film and media audiences; promotional media and cultural intermediation (esp. film marketing, criticism); and digital culture (e.g. algorithmic recommender systems).

Across his research career, he has examined film and other arts criticism, art cinema culture, classical and contemporary film theory, film and arts education as well as historical and contemporary European (especially German and Austrian) cinema. His work on film criticism, German cinema and on the filmmaking of Michael Haneke is frequently cited and has been translated into several languages.

Professor Frey has served as a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Peer Review College, on several award-granting committees of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS), the Steering Committee of the German Screen Studies Network (GSSN), the Advisory Board of the journal Alphaville, the Advisory Board of the Journal Research in Film and History and in numerous other validation and examining roles.

He is frequently invited to guest lecture or to speak at research seminars, symposia and other public events, including recently at the British Film Institute, Deutsches Filmmuseum Frankfurt, Filmuniversitaet Babelsberg, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Cambridge University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Kings College London, University of Bristol, University of Edinburgh, University of Sussex, University of Birmingham, Universita di Bologna, Universitet Gent, Waseda University Tokyo, Universitaet Frankfurt, Universitaet Bremen, Universitaet Passau, Boston University and the Freie Universitaet Berlin.


Professor Frey is currently designing modules in film marketing, media audiences and promotional media.

In the past, Professor Frey has convened the following modules:

  • FI585. Film Criticism
    This module examines the theory and history of Anglophone film criticism, but above all is a practical course in writing about film for the print and online media. Each week students view and review a film, post their piece online and receive feedback on their work. In the past, the module has invited world-renowned critics as guest lecturers, including Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader), Chris Darke (Film CommentSight & Sound), Sophie Mayer (Sight & Sound) and Jonathan Romney (Independent on Sunday).
  • FI587. Extreme Cinema
    This module probes issues of extreme cinema, i.e., ‘arthouse’ films that, because of sexual, violent or other iconoclastic content, form or style, have created critical or popular controversy. Representative topics include the aesthetics and ethics of representing violence, boundaries between erotic art and pornography, filmmakers’ publicity stunts and media performances, film festival programming, the liberalisation of classification (e.g., at the BBFC), specialist distributors, ‘perverse’ spectators and the role of controversy and ‘moral panic’ in film criticism and the news press.
  • FI822. Screening Histories (MA-level)
    Entire media industries thrive on costume films, historical docu-dramas and other period productions, from Downfall to Downton Abbey; cultural and economic activity clusters around ‘heritage’. This module studies the central concerns of the historical film, one of today's most prominent and debated genres: how it endeavours to produce and disseminate understandings of the past and history's significance to the present, how dramatic feature films can stimulate national debates about identity and how they can help us empathise with people different from us. 
  • FI591. Introduction to Film Theory
  • FI812. Advanced Film Theory (MA-level)
    These modules approach the ‘big questions’ that have surrounded film and the moving image and puts them into historical context. Although specific emphases vary, representative topics may address competing definitions of film and its constitutive elements, the effects that cinema has on spectators, the social, cultural and political implications that moving images reproduce, and the status of the medium between art and entertainment.
  • FI537. Postwar European Cinema: Realisms Waves
  • FI540. Contemporary European Cinema: Trends and Institutions
    These modules acquaint undergraduates with major issues in European cinema. Postwar European Cinema grapples with discourses of realism, for example, the aesthetic claims of Italian neorealism and the subjective, political realisms of the New German Cinema. Contemporary European Cinema examines how the dramatic political events of 1989-1990 and the expansion of the size and role of the EU have left an indelible mark on film production and consumption in Europe.
  • FI311. Introduction to Narrative Cinema II: World Cinema
    The introductory course examines a variety of international cinemas. It analyses films as products of their particular national and regional origins and as addressing specific audiences. In addition, it treats topics such as realism, film as personal expression, how film represents or reflects upon history, as well as matters of industry, technology and distribution. 


Professor Frey supervises PhD, MA and BA dissertations and welcomes queries about topics from potential applicants. He is especially interested in supervising dissertations that take a media industries approach and/or examine under-researched aspects of film and media culture (e.g., distribution, marketing, exhibition, reception, audiences, funding, criticism, awards).


Showing 50 of 66 total publications in the Kent Academic Repository. View all publications.


  • Frey, M. (2019). The Internet Suggests: Film, Recommender Systems, and Cultural Mediation. Journal of Cinema and Media Studies [Online] 59:163-169. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/cj.2019.0068.
  • Frey, M. (2018). The Authenticity Feeling: Language and Dialect in the Historical Film. Research in Film and History [Online] 1. Available at: https://film-history.org/approaches/authenticity-feeling.
  • Frey, M. (2018). A nova democracia?: Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, Twitter e IMDb. REBECA: Revista Brasileira de Estudos de Cinema e Audiovisual [Online] 6:343-374. Available at: https://rebeca.socine.org.br/1/article/view/495.
    Brazilian-Portuguese translation of 'The New Democracy?: Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, Twitter, and IMDb' from Film Criticism in the Digital Age (Frey and Sayad, eds., 2015).
  • Frey, M. and Janssen, S. (2018). Researching Sex and the Cinema in the #MeToo Age. Film Studies [Online] 18:1-13. Available at: https://doi.org/10.7227/FS.18.0001.
    This introduction to the Film Studies special issue on Sex and the Cinema considers
    the special place of sex as an object of inquiry in !lm studies. Providing an overview of
    three major topic approaches and methodologies – (1) representation, spectatorship
    and identity politics; (2) the increasing scrutiny of pornography; and (3) new cinema
    history/media industries studies – this piece argues that the parameters of and changes
    to the research of sex, broadly de!ned, in !lm studies re"ect the development of the
    !eld and discipline since the 1970s, including the increased focus on putatively ‘low’
    cultural forms, on areas of !lm culture beyond representation and on methods beyond
    textual/formal analysis.
  • Frey, M. (2017). Fassbinder: The Formal Innovator. Sight and Sound 27:28-28.
  • Frey, M. (2016). Editorial: Institutions and Agency (Part II). Film Studies [Online] 14:1-4. Available at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/manup/fs/2016/00000014/00000001/art00001.
  • Frey, M. (2016). Netflix Crit in the Twenty-First Century. Film Criticism [Online] 40. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/fc.13761232.0040.111.
  • Frey, M. (2015). Editorial: Institutions and Agency (Part I). Film Studies [Online] 13:1-4. Available at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/manup/fs/2015/00000013/00000001/art00001.
  • Frey, M. (2015). The Recalcitrant Discipline. Film Studies [Online] 12:10 -18. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.7227/FS.12.0003.
  • Frey, M. (2014). Teoretyzowanie kina u Sebalda i Sebalda poprez kino. Konteksty 68:135-144.
  • Frey, M. (2013). Filmkritik, with and without Italics: Kracauerism and Its Limits in Postwar German Film Criticism. New German Critique 40:85-110.
  • Frey, M. (2013). The Critical Question: Sight and Sound’s Postwar Consolidation of Liberal Taste. Screen 54:194-217.
  • Frey, M. (2013). The Greatest of These Is Love: Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise Trilogy. Artforum 51:149-150.
  • Frey, M. (2012). Grand Finales: The International Forum of New Cinema at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival. Senses of Cinema 62:n/a-n/a.
  • Frey, M. (2011). Searches for Identity: German Films at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. Senses of Cinema 58.
  • Frey, M. (2010). Art and Artifice: German Films at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival. Senses of Cinema [Online]. Available at: http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2010/festival-reports/art-and-artifice-german-films-at-the-60th-berlin-international-film-festival/.
  • Frey, M. (2010). Goodbye Germany: Emigration, Reality TV and Schadenfreude. Jump Cut [Online]. Available at: http://www.ejumpcut.org/currentissue/freyEmigrationTV/index.html.
  • Frey, M. (2010). A Cinema of Disturbance: The Films of Michael Haneke in Context, 2nd rev. ed. Senses of Cinema 57.
  • Frey, M. (2009). Insecure Times, Confident Localities: German Films at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival. Senses of Cinema [Online]:0-0. Available at: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/festivals/09/50/berlin-iff-2009.html.
  • Frey, M. (2008). Gazing Lessons: German Films at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival. Senses of Cinema [Online] 47:0-0. Available at: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/festivals/08/47/berlin-iff-2008.html.
  • Frey, M. (2007). The End of Innocence: Scandinavian Films at the 30th Gothenburg International Film Festival. Senses of Cinema [Online] 43:0-0. Available at: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/festivals/07/43/goteborg-iff-2007.html.
  • Frey, M. (2007). In/Flux: German Films at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival. Senses of Cinema [Online] 43:0-0. Available at: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/festivals/07/43/berlin-iff-2007.html.


  • Pauleit, W., Greiner, R. and Frey, M. (2018). Audio History Des Films: Sonic Icons – Auditive Histosphäre – Authentizitätsgefühl. [Online]. Berlin: Bertz + Fischer. Available at: http://www.bertz-fischer.de/product_info.php?products_id=510.
    Film is considered a visual medium, but almost every film also has an audio track. In this book, three authors examine the relationship between film sound and history. They open up a field of research that opens passages between film studies, sound studies and historical studies. Winfried Pauleit examines the aesthetic potential of film to produce history in the form of "Sonic Icons" in moments of self-reflection. Rasmus Greiner explores the connections between the audiovisual construction of historical experiences and sound design as an "auditory histosphere". Mattias Frey analyzes the interaction between history and sound using the example of dialects in history films and discusses the "feeling of authenticity".The film's audio history focuses on the aesthetic interplay of sound, image and text, as well as the potential to model or even create history, as well as the discourses on the reception of film sound, which are presented using empirical audience studies.
  • Frey, M. (2016). Extreme Cinema: The Transgressive Rhetoric of Today’s Art Film Culture. [Online]. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Available at: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/extreme-cinema/9780813576497.
    From Shortbus to Shame and from Oldboy to Irreversible, film festival premieres regularly make international headlines for their shockingly graphic depictions of sex and violence. Film critics and scholars alike often regard these movies as the work of visionary auteurs, hailing directors like Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier as heirs to a tradition of transgressive art. In this provocative new book, Mattias Frey offers a very different perspective on these films, exposing how they are also calculated products, designed to achieve global notoriety in a competitive marketplace.

    Paying close attention to the discourses employed by film critics, distributors, and filmmakers themselves, Extreme Cinema examines the various tightropes that must be walked when selling transgressive art films to discerning audiences, distinguishing them from generic horror, pornography, and Hollywood product while simultaneously hyping their salacious content. Deftly tracing the links between the local and the global, Frey also shows how the directors and distributors of extreme art house fare from both Europe and East Asia have significant incentives to exaggerate the exotic elements that would differentiate them from Anglo-American product.

    Extreme Cinema also includes original interviews with the programmers of several leading international film festivals and with niche distributors and exhibitors, giving readers a revealing look at how these institutions enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the “taboo-breakers” of art house cinema. Frey also demonstrates how these apparently transgressive films actually operate within a strict set of codes and conventions, carefully calibrated to perpetuate a media industry that fuels itself on provocation.
  • Frey, M. (2014). The Permanent Crisis of Film Criticism: The Anxiety of Authority. [Online]. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Available at: https://www.aup.nl/en/book/9789089647177/the-permanent-crisis-of-film-criticism.
    Film criticism is in crisis. Dwelling on the many film journalists made redundant at newspapers, magazines, and other 'old media' in past years, commentators have voiced existential questions about the purpose and worth of the profession in the age of WordPress blogospheres and proclaimed the 'death of the critic'. Bemoaning the current anarchy of internet amateurs and the lack of authoritative critics, many journalists and academics claim that in the digital age, cultural commentary has become dumbed down and fragmented into niche markets. Mattias Freu, arguing against these claims, examines the history of film critical discourse in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States . He demonstrates that since its origins, film criticism has always found itself in crisis: the need to show critical authority and the anxieties over challenges to that authority have been longstanding concerns.
  • Frey, M. (2013). Postwall German Cinema: History, Film History, and Cinephilia. Oxford/New York: Berghahn.

Book section

  • Frey, M. (2017). Institutional Roles in Using Film to Teach Difficult History: The Federal Agency for Civic Education and The Lives of Others. In: Stoddard, J., Marcus, A. and Hicks, D. eds. Teaching Difficult History Through Film. New York: Routledge, pp. 89-105. Available at: https://www.routledge.com/Teaching-Difficult-History-through-Film/Stoddard-Marcus-Hicks/p/book/9781138190771.
  • Sayad, C. (2015). Afterword in Film Criticism in the Digital Age. In: Sayad, C. and Frey, M. eds. Film Criticism in the Digital Age. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 243-247.
  • Frey, M. (2015). Critical Questions. In: Frey, M. and Sayad, C. eds. Film Criticism in the Digital Age. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 1-20.
  • Frey, M. (2015). The New Democracy? Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, Twitter, and IMDb. In: Frey, M. and Sayad, C. eds. Film Criticism in the Digital Age. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 81-98.
  • Choi, J. and Frey, M. (2014). Introduction. In: Choi, J. and Frey, M. eds. Cine-Ethics: Ethical Dimensions of Film Theory, Practice, and Spectatorship. New York: Routledge, pp. 1-14.
  • Frey, M. (2014). The Ethics of Extreme Cinema. In: Choi, J. and Frey, M. eds. Cine-Ethics: Ethical Dimensions of Film Theory, Practice, and Spectatorship. New York: Routledge, pp. 145-162.
  • Frey, M. (2014). Ekel und Langeweile: Der unbelehrbare Zuschauer. In: Pauleit, W., Rüffert, C., Schmid, K.-H., Tews, A. and Odorico, S. eds. Filmerfahrung Und Zuschauer: Zwischen Kino, Museum Und Sozialen Netzwerken. Berlin: Bertz + Fischer, pp. 48-62.
  • Frey, M. (2012). Tuning Out, Turning In, Walking Off: The Spectator in Pain. In: Gronstad, A. and Gustafsson, H. eds. Ethics and Images of Pain. London: Routledge, pp. 93-111.
  • Frey, M. (2012). Supermodernity, Sick Eros and the Video Narcissus: Benny’s Video in the Context of Theory and Time. In: McCann, B. and Sorfa, D. eds. The Cinema of Michael Haneke: Europe Utopia. London: Wallflower, pp. 151-161.
  • Frey, M. (2012). 23 July 1991: ZDF Broadcast of Ostkreuz Initiates Darker Reckoning with the Wende. In: Richardson, M. and Kapczynski, J. eds. A New History of German Cinema. Rochester, NY: Camden House, pp. 512-517.
  • Frey, M. (2011). The Possibility of Desire in a Conformist World: The Cinema of Ulrich Seidl. In: Dassanowsky, R. and Speck, O. eds. New Austrian Film. New York: Berghahn, pp. 189-198.
  • Frey, M. (2010). The Message and the Medium: Haneke’s Film Theory and Digital Praxis. In: Price, B. and Rhodes, J. D. eds. On Michael Haneke. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, pp. 153-165.
  • Frey, M. (2007). Theorizing Cinema in Sebald and Sebald with Cinema. In: Patt, L. ed. Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald. Los Angeles: Los Angeles: Institute of Cultural Inquiry Press, pp. 226-241.

Edited book

  • Frey, M. and Sayad, C. (2015). Film Criticism in the Digital Age. [Online]. Frey, M. and Sayad, C. eds. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Available at: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/film-criticism-in-the-digital-age/9780813570723.
    Over the past decade, as digital media has expanded and print outlets have declined, pundits have bemoaned a “crisis of criticism” and mourned the “death of the critic.” Now that well-paying jobs in film criticism have largely evaporated, while blogs, message boards, and social media have given new meaning to the saying that “everyone’s a critic,” urgent questions have emerged about the status and purpose of film criticism in the twenty-first century.
    In Film Criticism in the Digital Age, ten scholars from across the globe come together to consider whether we are witnessing the extinction of serious film criticism or seeing the start of its rebirth in a new form. Drawing from a wide variety of case studies and methodological perspectives, the book’s contributors find many signs of the film critic’s declining clout, but they also locate surprising examples of how critics—whether moonlighting bloggers or salaried writers—have been able to intervene in current popular discourse about arts and culture.
    In addition to collecting a plethora of scholarly perspectives, Film Criticism in the Digital Age includes statements from key bloggers and print critics, like Armond White and Nick James. Neither an uncritical celebration of digital culture nor a jeremiad against it, this anthology offers a comprehensive look at the challenges and possibilities that the Internet brings to the evaluation, promotion, and explanation of artistic works.

    "This is a great and highly important volume for film studies as a discipline and cultural and media studies more generally."
    —Dana Polan, New York University
  • Choi, J. and Frey, M. (2014). Cine-Ethics: Ethical Dimensions of Film Theory, Practice, and Spectatorship. Choi, J. and Frey, M. eds. New York: Routledge.

Edited journal

  • Frey, M. and Janssen, S. eds. (2018). Special Issue on Sex and the Cinema. Film Studies 18.
  • Frey, M. ed. (2016). Special issue on Institutions and Agency, Part II. Film Studies [Online] 14:1-123. Available at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/manup/fs/2016/00000014/00000001.
  • Frey, M. ed. (2015). Special issue on Institutions and Agency, Part I. Film Studies 13:1-120.

Internet publication

  • Frey, M. (2017). Who Owns History? Notes on Cultural Appropriation, Authenticity and the Historical Film [online]. Available at: http://iamhist.org/2017/04/owns-history-notes-cultural-appropriation-authenticity-historical-film/.


  • Frey, M. (2012). Review of: A Companion to Michael Haneke, ed. Roy Grundmann. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 32:127-129.
  • Frey, M. (2008). Review of: Jörn Ahrens und Stephan Braese, Hg., Im Zauber der Zeichen: Beiträge zu einer Kulturgeschichte des Mediums. MEDIENwissenschaft:145-147.


  • Tavassoli Zea, Z. (2016). La Bande Des Quatre: Nineteenth-Century Artistic and Literary Sources in Late Nouvelle Vague Filmmaking.
    This thesis examines the different ways the cinemas of Éric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard adapted literary and artistic motifs characteristic of the nineteenth-century romantic and realist traditions, from the 1960s to the 1980s. The selection of these four directors is based on their early and formative commitment to the politique des auteurs, a film criticism trend that was significantly indebted to central aesthetic precepts of the realist and naturalist novels. The profound social changes of the 1960s led directors, artists and writers to question long-accepted ideas about representation and authorship. The left-wing culture in France, which envisioned art and political protest as an inseparable whole, extensively criticised the nineteenth-century discourse on the realist novel as the outward revelation of the author's inner life. As a result, critics rapidly considered the politique des auteurs and, by extension, the universalist and openly westerncentric premises of the Nouvelle Vague as unpersuasive and dismissible. This thesis acknowledges that the relation these directors maintained with nineteenth-century thought has been overshadowed by scholarship on their individual careers, a research tendency that consolidates the notion of rupture and discontinuity between Rohmer, Rivette, Truffaut and Godard's filmographies. However, each one of them commonly returned to nineteenth-century sourcing and imagery in the post-1968 period through adaptations and transpositions of Heinrich von Kleist, Honoré de Balzac, Adèle Hugo, Prosper Mérimée and so on. As the first work to regroup this 'gang of four' in the aftermath of Rohmer's forced resignation in Cahiers du cinéma, this thesis argues that their approaches to the nineteenth-century cultural legacy should be assessed as distinct forms of reaffirming, revising, challenging and commenting on their former vision of cinema as a novelistic space, able to manifest the essence of sheer appearances. As the chapters will demonstrate, their engagements with nineteenth-century art and literature are complex. They are, on the one hand, inflected by their personal responses to the politicisation of the 1960s and 1970s French film culture and, on the other hand, informed by their individual understanding of the role of nineteenth-century narratives and aesthetic patterns within the framework of modern filmmaking.
    The introduction chapter lays the theoretical foundations of the Nouvelle Vague's early engagements with notions of romanticism and realism and, in light of the existing scholarship, establishes the aims and methodology of this thesis. Chapter two examines Rohmer's cinematic transposition of Balzac's rhetorical realism and analyses the paradoxes and modernist potential of the director's neoclassical film aesthetics in Die Marquise von O... (1976). Chapter three explores the ways Rivette turns the Balzacian myths of Icarus and Pygmalion into more immediate accounts on his contemporaries' struggle for unalienated and totalising works of art through Out 1: Noli me tangere (1971) and La Belle Noiseuse (1991). Chapter four analyses Truffaut's long series of engagements with nineteenth-century imagery and explores the reasons why L'enfant sauvage (1970), Les deux anglaises et le continent (1971), L'histoire d'Adèle H. (1975) and La chambre verte (1978) coincided with his growing conservatism. Chapter five develops Godard's relationship with the romantic legacy through the case-studies of Passion (1982) and Prénom Carmen (1983) - films which allude to Charles Baudelaire's entangled notions of spleen and the ideal and give an unprecedented attention to the aesthetics of chiaroscuro. The conclusion chapter establishes points of convergences and contrasts between the four directors through a comparative account that also addresses the ways in which their individual stands towards the romantic and realist legacies have evolved.


  • Frey, M. (2018). The International Reception of Downfall. In: Fisher, J. and Richardson, M. D. eds. Downfall: A Companion. Berlin: De Gruyter. Available at: https://www.degruyter.com/.
  • Frey, M. (2018). Unstomachable: Irréversible (2002) and the Extreme Cinema Tradition. In: Baer, N., Hennefeld, M., Horak, L. and Iversen, G. eds. Unwatchable. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
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